Who can resist Sergio Perez?
A quiet and almost demure Hamilton made his way over the bridge spanning the pit lane at Monza to claim his third win of the season. His controlled drive only required consistent lapping and negotiation of the perilous backmarker corsairs, Karthikeyan et al.. Lewis’s apparent sombre mood has given rise to fresh speculation over his future away from McLaren.
Contrastingly, whilst lamenting the failure to secure the 1-2, which looked probable until team mate Jenson Button retired with fuel pickup issues, Hamilton reassured us, “There’s always next year”. Hmmmm…. interesting. A meaningless slip or an intriguing clue?
Through the cloud of mystery kicked up by the Italian GP one obvious truth shone: Sergio Perez is dripping in potential. If teams had been previously eying him up, they are now trying to kick his front door down to get a contract in his hand. “Checo”, as most Sergios in Mexico are known, had built quite a reputation prior to Monza but this moment seemed to be particularly eye catching. Perez was cited as a thoroughly suitable candidate to replace Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, who may lose his seat next year. However, Ferrari team president Luca di Montezemolo quashed this conjecture by claiming the Mexican was too inexperienced for the move. Whilst Luca was ordering one portion of humble pie, Perez passed Alonso and Massa on an impressive scramble from twelfth on the grid to second over the line.
Sergio’s season may have been even more striking had he avoided clutch problems, pit strategy errors, the Spa pile-up and a few run-ins with everyone’s favourite nutcase – Pastor Maldonado. Surely no team can fail to notice the 22 year old’s talent. Perhaps he is young but surely that goes in the “pro” pile, not the “con”. With bags of raw pace, good race management, few bad habits and yet to hit his peak, it seems like a good package. Sauber must be keen to keep him and, for the moment, Perez reciprocates those feelings: “I’m happy here, and every day I’m more comfortable.”
The driver market for next year’s seats is ready to explode. Decisions have to be made soon. If McLaren fail to retain Hamilton, could Perez be an option? Possibly, but is likely that Lewis will stay at McLaren, for a few reasons. The whispers of a move to Mercedes are weakened by the fact that the team’s future in F1 is unsure. The company aren’t happy with the revenue or exposure gained by its participation, a risk Hamilton can’t take. He will also have doubts about the car he will be driving and its ability to win him the championship(s) he so desperately craves. Finally McLaren will invest in Hamilton. They have built the team around their two drivers and the PR team understand the importance of two British drivers. It has a substantial effect it has on the team’s appeal and marketability. Paul di Resta may become an attractive prospect for them after a good showing this year, but he still looks slightly undercooked.
So what about Mercedes? If Schumacher retires again Perez could be the perfect replacement. Red Bull may also look at him seriously as a replacement for Mark Webber. There’s also Romain Grosjean to consider, also relatively new on the scene. Grosjean has had a great season and despite some bad errors shows excellent speed, regularly in the mix with the big boys. But as we have seen on multiple occasions this season, he needs to spend some time with the tape measure getting to grips with the dimensions of his Lotus.
Whichever way the cards fall, we’ll know in next week or so. It all feels like one of those puzzles with the square missing, and you slide the tiles around until you get the right picture. Well this slidey puzzle has many tiles, and no one knows what the picture’s supposed to be.